International grain trade is a high dollar business of capital and clout and the U.S. is a world leader. The jaw-dropping global-sized trade deals, huge dollar figures and massive logistical undertakings of trade decisions affect countless people, often get their start through simple person-to-person relationships. Profound friendships and vast amounts of trust are a requirement, and Ohio’s abounding agricultural industry is playing a key role in the process. Two international teams of livestock grain buyers visited the Buckeye state this fall to get a better look at where their feed grains are coming from and get to know the people producing them. The visits were coordinated by the Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association, led by market development director Brad Moffitt.
“The thing that amazes me about agriculture is that when you get a bunch of strangers into a room, within an hour you’re friends,” Moffitt said. “And then you part great friends. The number one takeaway for me is the worldwide friendships you make. Those connections are what creates business down the road for our export industry. It’s a relationship building thing for us, and if we can move Midwest corn, that adds to the demand and helps drive the price of the product in our multi-state region.”
That mindset motivated the plan behind the two successful international visits to Ohio.
“Internationally as far as trade, we are still a world leader, but we’ve got competitors knocking on our door. Australia has become a huge leader in the wheat industry and the Pacific Rim. Obviously Brazil and Argentina have become huge players worldwide in corn. The competition to sell our product
internationally increases a bit each year and we just need to stay at it. We have competition in the world we didn’t have in the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s,” Moffitt said. “The importance of these visits is to build and maintain our overseas customer base. It all trickles down to the local producer.”
The two international trade team visits to Ohio this summer were part of a larger effort revolving around the Export Exchange held in Detroit this fall. The Export Exchange is held every two years and sponsored by the U.S. Grains Council and Renewable Fuels Association. The event attracted nearly 200 international buyers and end-users eager to meet and build relationships with more than 300 domestic suppliers in attendance over three days of educational sessions and networking opportunities.
“At a time when we are looking at a record corn harvest and the clear need for international trade to be championed by our country’s leaders, Export Exchange is critical for our industry,” said Tom Sleight, president and CEO of the U.S. Grains Council. “It is essential for us to strengthen the bonds between suppliers and partner countries, and the connections made will not only help propel our industry this year, but for years to come.”
The visits to Ohio farms helped build upon the Export Exchange. A 12-person team from Central America, including two Panama Canal Authority representatives and two interpreters, visited Ohio agricultural operations the week before the event. The four-person Middle East team visited post-Exchange.
“They are buyers of U.S. corn and these folks in particular are buying feed grains for their livestock industries,” Moffitt said. “We work with all the other grain producing states to increase demand, therefore adding value to every bushel of grain we sell, in our case that’s corn. And they’re also heavily interested in the DDGS from our ethanol plants.”
An interesting mix of nationalities made up the visits. The Central American team had visitors from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Panama. The Middle Eastern team had members from Jordan, Lebanon, and a U.S. Grains Council rep from Algeria. Though their home countries were diverse, each had the same goal — learning more about U.S. corn.
A healthy mix of Ohio’s impressive agricultural operations was thrown into each three-day visit window.
“I always make sure to get them on farms so we can have farmer to farmer or farmer to agribusiness-person conversations. In this case, these are the people that buy feed grain for customers all over their countries,” Moffitt said. “Meeting farmers that produce the grain in this region is very important to them, so we make it a point to spend time on farms.”
For the Central America trip, stops were made at Glandorf Feed, the poultry and cattle operation of Tony Grote, the swine and grain operation of Vennekotter Farms, as well as a stop at The Andersons grain facility in Maumee.
“For corn and wheat both, we try to expose them to a larger terminal operation, a country elevator, and a farm. When we’re hosting a corn or feed grains team, we always try to get to an ethanol plant. On the wheat side, we try to get in a milling operation,” Moffitt said. “We try to spread these trade team visits out so we hit as many farms over the years as possible. Our Ohio farmers, both livestock and grain, are always willing and enthusiastic hosts for these teams.”
Certain areas tended to stand out to visitors. Moffitt said the visits happened to coincide with the middle of harvest, adding to the positive impressions made.
“They’re always very impressed by our handling, our drying, and our storage. And they also really love to get on machinery,” he said. “They want to get on and ride the machinery with an operator, including tractors, combines, and sprayers. They want the experience of being on the equipment that our farmers use to plant, manage, and harvest the crops.”
The Middle East group, which included some of the largest livestock corn buyers in that segment of the world, also had a busy three-day schedule. Their trip included an ethanol visit to POET in Fostoria, Gerald Grain Center in Archbold, Oak Shade Dairy, Truckor Farms, Rufencht Beef Farm, and Drewes Farms.
With so many local farmers involved, Moffitt said it’s a learning experience from both sides.
“Our farmers are always very curious as to how they feed their livestock, and how they grow their crops. It is a good exchange of ideas, information, and technology,” Moffitt said. “I set up a schedule, get the people to a location, and then we just let the conversations roll. You really don’t have to plan a strict agenda when you get the locations because the agenda naturally flows.”
Ohio Corn & Wheat organizes about four to six such visits each year, helping to get the word out about Ohio agriculture.
“What they have in Central America is similar to what we have here, just on smaller scale. They don’t have nearly enough grain to feed the livestock, and that’s why they visit us and build relationships,” he said.
Along with the focus on differences in agriculture, the variances in cultures between hosts and visitors brought its own learning experience through the visits.
“We’re always very interested in the culture of their countries. They’re always very interested in ours. So it’s a cultural learning exchange, too,” Moffitt said.
Some pieces of American culture that many find to be the day-to-day norm are revealed as not so usual for other parts of the world.
“Several of the visitors from Latin America had never been on farms,” Moffitt said. “Our two administrators from the Panama Canal had never been able to drive a countryside like you see in Ohio where once you get out of the city, you can drive for miles and see nothing but crops and farmsteads. Our friends from the Middle East always comment on how green it is because we are a lot greener here than some of those countries.”
While building those one-on-one relationships, Moffitt noted they must also stay alert to forces outside of their control that may dictate how business relationships take form.
“We’re always interested in the political climates in their country and they’re always interested in the political climates in our country, because these climates can influence trade. The teams we had here in October were very interested in the presidential election and what would happen if Clinton or Trump were elected, and who our agricultural leaders may be. Those conversations happen during these visits,” Moffitt said. “When we were in Brazil last month, we were very interested in the political climate of their country.”
Even so, Moffitt said it’s enlightening to see agriculturalists of all kinds build relationships.
“They’re so accepting of us and we’re so accepting of them,” he said. “Agriculture is a unique and wonderful place to be.”